PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are ubiquitous chemicals that leave a toxic trail of pollution, negatively impacting the health of our people and planet. Often called “forever chemicals”, this class of substances is found in the majority of consumer products, including water-repellent outdoor clothing and gear. Recently, leading outdoor brands have become committed to phasing out PFAS, and many outdoor retailers are supporting the cause by screening products for PFAS and eradicating toxic materials from their own product lines.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been used in product manufacturing since the 1940s; research shows that they are linked to cancer, developmental delays in children, compromised immune function, decreased fertility, and many other health problems.1 PFAS traces are found in everything from drinking water to breast milk and people’s bloodstreams. The long-term issue is that PFAS don’t break down once they escape into the environment. These chemicals can enter the environment in large quantities during the manufacturing process through wastewater or airborne particles or in smaller amounts while in use and disposed of at the end of life.
Though scientists are just starting to understand the impact of PFAS, their presence in our environment is already cemented. Researchers have found that rainwater and ground soil already contain unsafe contamination levels of these toxic chemicals.2
PFAS in the Outdoor Industry
Outdoor enthusiasts and businesses are focused on finding alternatives to PFAS and other forever chemicals. If PFAS are so hazardous to human health, they may also be terribly damaging to wildlife and ecological systems. The US Geological Survey and National Parks Service are currently conducting studies to quantify these effects on national park land.3
Outdoor brands have traditionally used PFAS-coated materials for water repellency and durability. For this industry, the path towards eliminating further emission of forever chemicals lies in finding replacement materials that don’t sacrifice performance. Fortunately, there are already high-performance PFAS-free options available. For example, retailers, including Marmot and Mountain Hardwear, have released successful lines of PFAS-free items. In addition, Polartec, which makes fabrics for companies including Black Diamond and The North Face, switched to PFAS-free treatments and reported no performance loss from a water-repellency or durability standpoint.
Renegade’s fabrics can be used for products such as tarps, drop cloths, dry bags, duffle bags, gear bags, haul bags, rafting equipment, and sleep pads and are free from PFAS, heavy metals, phthalates, lead and dioxins.
From a regulation standpoint, a few countries, states, and businesses are taking action to remove PFAS from the environment. For example, the EPA has recently proposed regulations that would limit the presence of six of the most common PFAS in drinking water.4 California has introduced legislation that would require stricter regulations for PFAS in textiles5, and major retailer REI, has banned products containing PFAS starting in late 2024.
Higher-level regulations on forever chemicals encourage manufacturers and consumers to walk away from these harmful chemicals more urgently, paving the way for healthier people and planet.